President Trump on Wednesday responded to the guilty plea of his former lawyer Michael Cohen and the conviction of his former campaign manager Paul Manafort, praising Manafort as a “brave man” who remained loyal to him, while insisting that two of the key acts Cohen admitted to in federal court were “not a crime.”
“I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family,” Trump tweeted. “‘Justice’ took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to ‘break’ — make up stories in order to get a ‘deal.’ Such respect for a brave man!”
Manafort was found guilty Tuesday on eight of the 18 counts brought against him by special counsel Robert Mueller: five counts of tax fraud, one of hiding foreign bank accounts and two of bank fraud. The jury in the case could not reach a verdict on the other charges, a fact the president seized on.
“A large number of counts, ten, could not even be decided in the Paul Manafort case,” Trump tweeted, adding: “Witch Hunt!”
In total, the guilty counts could carry a lengthy prison sentence for Manafort, who is 69 years old. Prosecutors now have until Aug. 29 to decide whether they will seek a retrial for the charges on which the jury deadlocked. Manafort will remain in custody and faces another trial on Sept. 17 in Washington, D.C., where he will be tried on charges of failing to register as a foreign agent, money laundering and obstruction of justice.
Arriving in West Virginia for a rally on Tuesday night, Trump described Manafort as a “good man,” saying the case had “nothing to do with Russian collusion.” Trump’s reluctance to criticize Manafort has led to speculation that the president will pardon him.
But according to Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, the president isn’t mulling a pardon for Manafort “at this time.”
Cohen, who once was a close confidant of Trump’s but has fallen out of favor, pleaded guilty to eight counts, including violating campaign-finance laws by making hush-money payments to two women who claim to have had affairs with Trump. He acknowledged that the payments were meant to influence the 2016 presidential election by keeping the allegations out of the news, and that they were made “in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office,” referring to then-candidate Trump.
The president argued that the campaign-finance charges were “not a crime” — an assertion that seems to have no basis in law.
“Michael Cohen plead guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations that are not a crime,” Trump tweeted. “President Obama had a big campaign finance violation and it was easily settled!”
Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign was fined $375,000 by the Federal Election Commission for campaign-reporting violations. According to Politico, those included missing 48-hour notices for campaign contributions that exceeded $1,000 or more within a 20-day window of Election Day.
Cohen also admitted to bank fraud and tax evasion charges that do not appear to involve his work for Trump. But they do add time to his possible sentence, which gives prosecutors additional leverage in seeking his cooperation.
The president, who ignored shouted questions about Cohen before the rally, began his Twitter response on Wednesday by mocking his longtime “fixer.”
“If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!” Trump tweeted.
Meanwhile, Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, said on Wednesday that his client has information that would be “of interest” to Mueller’s Russia probe.
And Davis said that “under no circumstances” would Cohen accept a pardon from Trump.
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